2021: The Importance of Choice

With 2020 now behind us, many of us have taken some time to review the events and impact of the last year. And what a year it was! An unprecedented year, bringing unexpected upheaval and change, requiring businesses and individuals alike to adapt rapidly to an entirely new reality. Many of the changes will remain with us in 2021 and even longer, changing the way we live and work forever.

One of the most impactful changes experienced by most companies and employees globally was the rapid transition to the remote work-from-home model. Remote working has been a growing trend for many years, but the Covid19 pandemic has certainly accelerated the adoption of the work-from-home model, even in industries or regions where this was previously not particularly prevalent. This large scale adoption of a new way of working is likely also one of the changes which will remain a key factor in the World of Work as we move into 2021, and beyond.

After adjusting to the initial rapid change to working remotely, and as the prospect of working exclusively from home started to stretch into many months, it was interesting to note in our own teams how long term remote working was a vastly different experience for different team members, not only depending on their personal circumstances, but also depending on their different personalities and preferences. People inherently have different needs when it comes to personal interaction which in turn affect their ability to remain motivated and productive. Some are content to work entirely remotely indefinitely. Other team members need or prefer to break up the monotony of a work-from-home routine with the option of occasionally spending time in the office.

Choice is only really valued in its absence, as our collective experience during the pandemic has shown all too clearly. The ability to choose, at least some of the time, whether to work remotely or in the office, will be a fundamental need for employees going forward.

It is inevitable that companies will adopt broader remote working practices in 2021 than ever before. It would however be wise to consider the growing body of research which points to the pitfalls of taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach, without considering the preferences of individual employees.

The Global Work-From-Home Experience Survey conducted by Dr. Anita Kamouri, Co-Founder of Iometrics, and Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, found that 76% of global employees indicated a preference for continuing to work from home post-pandemic, with the key being that they would want the option to choose to work from home some of the time. The preference for the amount of time spent working from home differs slightly depending on country, with choosing to work from home 2 to 3 days a week being the average.

Similarly, as Nick Routley writes, companies who do not adopt a flexible work location approach may find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to attracting talent in the future. 70% of candidates say that having a choice in their work location is a key consideration when evaluating a potential employer, and more than half find this more important than working for a prestigious company, or having an increase in holiday allowance.

This strong need to exercise personal choice, a need for self-determination if you will, has never been as relevant in the work environment as it is now, and will be even in a post-pandemic world. This will require a fundamental shift in mind set when it comes to designing Human Capital strategies and policies. Where the HR function has often focused on standardization, the focus will now be on customization. In pursuit of fair and equitable treatment of all employees, standard policies use to make sense. But to retain and attract talent in the future, a flexible remote work policy which allows for some level of personal choice will be essential.

The importance of choice is also unlikely to remain confined to the matter of work location. We expect to see a ripple effect, with employees increasingly valuing greater autonomy and preferring to exercise personal choice in more and more aspects of the work environment. Some examples may include greater flexibility in choosing their model of engagement with an employer, choosing the benefits and incentives which suit them, choosing to work solo or in a collaborative team depending on their own preferred work styles, and choosing which projects to take on depending on their existing skills or the skills and experience they wish to acquire. Whilst these are not entirely new concepts, the degree to which organisations will need to accelerate their adoption of these trends will be unprecedented, just as we could not have imagined the speed with which remote working was adopted in 2020. This will have far-reaching consequences for the HR function, across all aspects of the organisation including work design, organisational development, and culture.

The changes brought by 2020 are far from over, and as we head into 2021 the successful companies of the future will recognise and prepare for the importance of choice, and incorporate this as a core value in their organisations.


By Ilana Erasmus – INAC South Africa

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